History, Good Only for “I”

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Google sends me this alert every year on this day.

It is always funny to be reminded, on an annual basis, that years of harsh asceticism resulted in eternal transcendent insights unspeakable with words, maybe, but also being forever fated to be linked with Dooly the Little Dinosaur.

Let that humbling fact marinate in your brain a little bit when you fantasize about going off to Asia to attain the Way.

A Pithy Pivot

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There is, in this single Tweet, the entirety of a master’s degree in theology. To these old Catholic eyes, the entire arc of the history of Christianity can be found here. It is especially meaningful because he does correctly credit “the just and loving nature of [Christianity’s] principles”, yet turns incisively on this supremely pithy pivot towards how it was precisely these exalted qualities, reified in institutional power, which “justified the brutal extermination of all rationalist and spiritual opposition.”

The Tweet is over before you know it. And you have covered the central contradiction illuminating everything from the decimation of the greatness of “pagan” civilization, gnosticism, etc., down through Galileo, witch burning, the whole enslavement of Africans and the slaughter of native peoples in the New World, and the offspring of unwed mothers in Ireland being tossed into wells by the thousands, among many uncountable terrors, pogroms, abuses, and massacres. When Love turns to Law.

It’s all in one truly comprehensive Tweet.

Slaving away in a Manhattan law firm for over a year to save up the money to put myself through Harvard Divinity School — and taking on many thousands of dollars of student loans, to boot, paid back from a monk’s monthly pocket money in Korea! — had this Tweet arrived but 30 years earlier, what needless waste could have been spared!

Maybe it should be seen this way: What a decent price to pay to be brought to Cambridge, and maybe therefore to find the Cambridge Zen Center, and so therefore how worth every penny shelled out in savings and in debt to get to a place where I could find true Dharma, very low bullshit included. If going to Divinity School was what needed to be “activated”, at what cost, to be brought within the blast radius of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s clear pointing to the nature of consciousness — and the clear tools to attain that — then so be it.

But this Tweet points to something which explains why I don’t know shit about Buddhism, academically, and have read less than 10 Buddhist books ever: All the holy writings of the Church fathers had only succeeded in contracting and weaponising “the just and loving nature of the cult’s principles” so far, far away from its usefulness for humanity — all this educated violence — that something about the entire intellectual effort even of Buddhism, if it meant adding to thinking, would just distract from the opportunity being offered to just practice. I wanted the essence, the direct experience pointed to by the sutras, and no more with this realm of conceptual delusion. That’s probably the reason for going so hard core into Zen, and not giving a shit anymore about a shallower “way of doctrines”, however deeper Buddhism’s doctrinal truth may be.

Hands Down One of My Favourite Aural-Spiritual Experiences of All Time

Perhaps, having been to Tibet twice, and having directly witnessed the Lhasa Uprising on March 10, 2008, the invasion of Sera Monastery by Chinese Special Forces to quash a massive protest by the monks as we arrived inside the temple gates, and having been under house arrest for several hours, and breaking that for that crazed hijacking of a nervous taxi to drive us into downtown Lhasa under occupation, right to the Potala and a tangka seller — seeing the troop carriers massed at major intersections, and sliding my big American nose and bald head down below the window line as we passed formations of PLA, that crazed trip I demanded to make in the deep of night to check what we could as witnesses to this (being among the only Westerners in Lhasa at that time), those emptied streets and shuttered shops, and memories still red-fresh of the monks being forced to kneel in rows outside the temple gates of Sera, facing the wall, hands on their heads, getting a rifle butt in the head unannounced every now and then, as we were processed to drive our bus of pilgrims away and back to the hotel, leaving the monks behind to their Fate once our Western eyes (four, to be exact) were escorted away (and the 80 or so Korean eyes, too, huddled behind drawn curtains, taught by totalitarianism to look away) — maybe this light taste of the Tibetan soul, the modern Tibetan predicament, eyewitness to just another step in its genocide, the Tibetans desperately reaching for their voice to be heard while the world’s eyes were trained on China in that March just four months from the Beijing Olympics, helps me to connect with this soundtrack, because Glass so perfectly captures the march of deluded nationalism and militarism as the invaders crush in. Yes, it is Philip Glass, and he is a longtime meditation student of some depth — this has the ethereal and the spiritual that we associate with the Buddhism of the Tibetan soul. But the tragic heft of this soundtrack really pierces me, and I have heard it some 100 times. (And this is from someone who doesn’t listen to music much, even the god Mahler.) Having seen the movie certainly informs some of Glass’s texture and mood-space here. But it is something far, far deeper — this touches something far, far more familiar, as if pressed into the very soul of the one who writes this. The monks we left behind at Sera Monastery — they fill my mind whenever I hear the piece here called “The Chinese Invade” (25:17 – 32:24), as I am now.

And the next piece — “Distraught” (34:3537:35). And what follows…

And what follows? I wish there was something to report to the monks of Sera. In what jails or camps do they now languish for that day.

. . .

(And a reader on Facebook sends me this clip — hands down, it should earn an Oscar itself, for The Best Closing Lines Ever for a Movie, Ever.):

Who are you?

I think I am a reflection,
like the moon, on water.
When you see me,
and I try to be a good man,
see yourself.

Such truth, such powerful true teaching of real Dharma, so powerful in speech and in a movie: “ I am just phenomena, passing. When manifesting this pure nature that witnesses phenomena passing, because always practicing, then you may see yourself. That is Buddha.”